Townsend selected for 2011 Excellence in Research award


Dr. Marilyn Townsend has been selected as the recipient of the 2011 UC Davis Academic Federation Award for Excellence in Research. This prestigious award recognizes the vital role an Academic Federation researcher has played in developing the growing reputation for research at UC Davis. The award is intended to recognize meritorious achievement by an Academic Federation faculty member in their research program through an innovative approach to a research topic, effective dissemination of research, or significant achievement in acquiring extramural funding for research.

Research created innovative tools for evaluating low literate groups

Dr. Townsend's work targets nutrition in low-income American communities and for the past five years her research program has been primarily focused on the development and validation of assessment tools for use by the USDA food and nutrition assistance program participants. Approximately 80% of these program participants are considered to be marginally or low literate and while statistically relevant, these groups are often invisible because of the lack of effective assessment instruments.

While several research groups publish in the area of behavioral assessment tool development and validation, Dr. Townsend's group stands out as the only one focusing on tools for those with minimal literacy skills, which requires very creative approaches to their development and validation. She has also been a leader in developing and evaluating a diet and physical activity curriculum for low-income adolescents. "Dr. Townsend's work is truly innovative in nature" says Dr. Francene Steinberg, Nutrition Department Chair.

Paper on food insecurity marked paradigm shift in obesity research

Dr. Townsend's Journal of Nutrition paper was the first to document food insecurity as a risk factor for obesity among women in the U.S. "Her contribution in this new research field resulted in a paradigm shift," notes Dr. Judith Stern, Distinguished Professor of Nutrition at UC Davis. Prior to Dr. Townsend's research, university nutrition and public health departments instructed students that food insecurity was a risk factor for underweight as one would logically assume.

Dr. Townsend has continued to work on issues of food insecurity in Latino households, in collaboration with Nutrition department colleague Dr. Lucia Kaiser. Findings from these studies were used by the US Dept. of Labor Statistics in designing the food security component for the 2012 wave of the NLSY (National Longitudinal Survey of Youth).

Changing USDA's Food Stamp Program (now SNAP) is seen by Dr. Townsend as a means of improving diet quality of SNAP children with the ultimate goal of reducing childhood obesity. With a $50 billion annual budget, this program has a major presence in every low-income community in the US. She proposed a redesign of SNAP to support the purchase of foods meeting the US Dietary Guidelines. She first proposed this redesign in an invited paper in Journal of the American Dietetics Assoc.

Dedicated to health promotion through program development

Dr. Townsend's work in the area of health promotion interventions has had a wide impact, especially on children and adolescents in California. She was recently funded to continue her applied research on a behavioral strategy developed at UC Davis for adolescents, ‘guided goal setting', expanding now to low-income adults. This work is supported by NIFA NRI with new funding from NIFA AFRI Obesity for further work.

Dr. Townsend has been recognized for her work as a recipient of the USDA's Jeanne M. Priester Award for innovative health education programming, the National Health Information Award, the Dannon Institute's Award for Excellence in Community Nutrition, the Excellence through Research Award sponsored by the National Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences (western states), and the UC ANR Distinguished Service Award. Her work is featured in 2010 national/international nutrition education/dietetics undergraduate and graduate textbooks.

Since 1995, the health promotion interventions developed under her leadership have been used by more than 250,000 children and adolescents in California. Because of her innovative research and extensive experience in program development, Dr. Townsend is now a recognized expert in program evaluation frequently consulting at the request of federal, state and local professionals.

Dr. Townsend joins the list below of past UC Davis Academic Federation Award for Excellence in Research recipients:

2000, Marilyn Olmstead, Chemistry
2001, Ramon Vogt, Physics
2002, John Reuter, Environmental Science & Policy
2003, Peter Havel, Nutrition
2004, William Reisen, VM: Center for Vector-borne Disease Research
2005, Mari Golub, MED: Internal Medicine
2006, Frank Mitloehner, Animal Science
2007, Gregory Lanzaro, Entomology
2008, Christoph Vogel, Environmental Toxicology
2009, Alison Van Eenennaam, Animal Science
2010, Koen Van Rompay, California National Primate Research Center
2011, Marilyn Townsend, Nutrition

Contact for more information:

Marilyn S. Townsend, Nutrition Department, (530) 754-9222,